The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Rowing On The River

By JoshMogerman in News on Aug 11, 2012 7:00PM

The Chicago River. You probably cross one of nearly 40 movable bridges that span it every day without a thought. And an array of issues have thrust the waterway into the front pages and collective conciousness of Chicagoans in recent years.

But really, how well do you know the river that is so central to the city's iconography (the blue lines on Chicago's flag represent the river, as does the Y symbol on our municipal seal)? Have you ever been on it?

For more than a century it has been an extension of our toilets, flushing waste from "The City That Works" down to "The Gateway to the West" and beyond, making any contact with the Chicago River not only something inconceivable, but also something necessary to actively avoid. But in recent years, more and more people have been tackling the slow waterway in canoes and kayaks. We did last week, floating from Goose Island on the north side down, to Union Station on the river's South Branch, before hooking back into the main stem of the river past Lake Shore Drive to the Chicago Lock, where the river connects with Lake Michigan.

Moving along the river, you get a good look at the infrastructure that both makes the city work and creates controversy. We went the day after a big rain and noticed combined sewers that continued to release dirty stormwater into the river, lots of floating garbage and some bridges desperately in need of attention. But despite that ugliness, floating the Chicago River is an amazing experience, offering dramatic views of our spectacular architecture and surprising glimpses of nature in the midst of our concrete and steel downtown.

We have made the trip before and will do it again. It is something all Chicagoans should do at some point and Mayor Emanuel wants to make easier in the future. Just make sure to bring plenty of hand sanitzer and be prepared to spring into action, since there is a lot of traffic and activity along the banks.